‘Go Bush, yes America,’ Iraqis cheer

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BAGHDAD – A smiling burka-clad Shi'ite woman gave a big thumbs-up to the US

 

forces she passed as she walked along the road in southern Baghdad, dragging

 

a bathtub she had just looted.

 

'Go Bush! Yes America!' she called out.

 

Thousands upon thousands of Iraqi civilians took to the streets of Baghdad

 

yesterday, smiling and waving at US forces as they looted government and

 

military warehouses. By nightfall the soldiers in the 3rd Infantry Division

 

had poised to make their final linkup in north-central Baghdad along both

 

sides of the Tigris River, thus completing the occupation of the Iraqi

 

capital.

All over the city from north to south and east to west, civilians, who had

 

largely remained at home over the past week since US ground forces began

 

their push toward Baghdad, took to the streets. Wednesday morning there were

 

reports that anti-regime forces in Saddam City in central Baghdad hanged

 

Baath Party officers from a bridge on the Tigris river.

 

The Iraqi Army's 10th Brigade surrendered en masse to marines in

 

northeastern Baghdad Wednesday morning.

 

Citizens looted warehouses throughout the city, unabashedly carrying away as

 

much as they could by any means available. In southern Baghdad a donkey

 

collapsed under the weight of a cart of goods taken from a government

 

warehouse. Children and mothers dragged porcelain bathtubs through the

 

streets. Men stole vehicles, including heavy trucks. Many vehicles had empty

 

gas tanks and were pushed down the street filled with bananas, screws,

 

rivets, shower heads, and garbage cans.

 

One warehouse was stripped. Civilians set it on fire, causing a thick cloud

 

of black smoke to billow up to the sky.

 

Civilians approached US forces with cigarettes, pita bread, and bananas. The

 

Iraqis called out, 'No Saddam!' and 'Go Bush!' as they waved and smiled at

 

the soldiers. In the center of the city civilians ran to embrace marines and

 

3rd Infantry Division forces.

 

Pictures of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, which aside from Iraqi date palm

 

trees are the most prominent feature of the Iraqi landscape, were torn down

 

from billboards, traffic circles, and public squares by jubilant mobs.

 

'This Iraqi came up and gave me this flower,' said Sgt. Gavin Hale as he

 

patted a rose on his ceramic vest. 'I also got about 40 cigarettes,' he

 

added with a bemused smile. Similar stories abounded.

 

'Although no one wants to say it outright,' said Battalion Commander

 

Lt.-Col. Scott Rutter, 'today was the beginning of the transition from

 

Saddam's regime to the new government.'

 

Because there is, to date, no transition government to speak of, Wednesday

 

was completely anarchic. The cheering crowds were far from unanimous

 

regarding their thoughts on US forces. 'We are glad that Saddam is gone, but

 

we want the US and Britain to leave too,' said Ali, a young man who refused

 

to assist US troops with crowd control for fear of 'upsetting my mother.'

 

Yaseer, a young man in southern Baghdad, stood along a railroad track that

 

had been recently ripped out and carried off, along with another 30 men and

 

boys, smiling and laughing. When I asked him what he thought of Saddam, he

 

responded, 'He is a great man.'

 

'Then why are you happy being out here with American troops?' I asked him.

 

'Because there were bad men working under Saddam, but Saddam is a very good

 

man,' he said.

 

Yaseer said he thought that Saddam was great 'because he controls the

 

people. The Iraqi people are very bad. They need to be controlled.'

 

Interestingly, Iraqi civilians seemed to have no fear of American forces.

 

 

'They see us as economic saviors, not as rulers,' said US airman Allen

 

Lefko. 'They are already beginning to separate fact from fiction. They see

 

we are not ten-foot-tall storm troopers come to shoot them,' he said. 'Let's

 

just hope they will be able to accept the truth about Saddam just as

 

easily,' he added.

 

At the same time, many Iraqis expressed distaste for the British. While some

 

unfurled British Union Jacks to welcome the US troops into their

 

neighborhoods, others called out, 'No England, only America.'

 

Khader said, 'England will stay here, America will go.'

 

Iraqi civilians had countless questions for the US troops. While they

 

expressed a vague curiosity about their new government, they were keen to

 

restore electrical power, which was turned off last week. Then, too,

 

civilians repeatedly asked when humanitarian aid would arrive as government

 

hospitals were reportedly closed.

 

'We are all Fedayeen,' a voice in one crowd called out. The US forces waved

 

back and smiled.

 

For their part, the troops were cautiously sympathetic to the civilians.

 

'They seemed happy to see us,' said Cmdr. Rob Smith of a Sunni Muslim

 

neighborhood in southern Baghdad his company had taken over. 'And yet they

 

only started to really approach us after we blew up an armored personnel

 

carrier that had been hidden beneath a tarp.'

 

Saddam's remaining forces in the capital are largely in hiding. On Wednesday

 

morning, the 4-64 Armored Battalion from the 2nd Brigade, now located in

 

north-central Baghdad, was attacked by small-arms fire and RPGs fired from

 

within a mosque.

 

The Iraqis, according to US military sources, are unable to organize beyond

 

the company level. US forces believe terrorist attacks are now their largest

 

single threat.

 

 

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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